Annoyingly, the Mazda MX5 30th Anniversary edition that qualified for BBDC this year by winning the test’s affordable-car counterpart back in August fairly breezes around it. Its modest power means you don’t need much more than an easing of the pedal to balance the nose on turn-in, and then you simply turn the ideally-paced and weighted steering one way as the chassis rolls gently the other. It’s all very delicate by modern performance car standards. Don’t worry about the body movement; there’s still plenty of grip to see you right, and a lovely sense of chassis balance that just begins to give you neutral attitude in the car as you point the nose out. You’ll barely notice the bumps at all.
Now try it in the super-exotic, apparently prototype-grid-ready Dallara Stradale. Turn in speed? Well, ask yourself: whaddayagot? If you can be brave enough to roll off the throttle early and leave the oddly spongy, over-assisted brake pedal well enough alone, you won’t destabilize the car at least, but you’ll likely be turning in at close to 90 if you do. That’s a brain-out job and no mistake.
Lucky, then, that the Stradale steers with really incredible feel, and, on warm tyres, sticks like Group C car. Downforce means entry speed is your friend. You’ll need to nail that late apex line, mind you – and you’ll feel the bumps this time. Then, with a woosh of Focus RS, away you go.
If a car’s heavy, or if it doesn’t communicate well, it doesn’t go round Church too well either. A Lamborghini Huracan Evo has bags of lateral grip, but less-than-perfect handling balance and quite artificial-feeling steering – and, to paraphrase friend and colleague John Simister, it seems to go from pointing in one direction to pointing in an entirely new one – apparently without needing to point in any direction in between. It gets around alright, but it’s hard to be master of exactly where or how. A Mercedes-AMG GT63 S four-door, by comparison, goes in and comes out slower, and turns in just as suddenly – although, thankfully, your sense of control over course and line isn’t quite so digital-feeling.
An Ariel Atom 4 is perfect for Church if you don’t mind wrapping up against the breeze. It’s certainly worth it. The confidence you get from the chassis and steering here, and the feel you have for the grip level under the front axle, is like nothing else. The car’s light and can carry huge speed without rolling much at all. The pedal placement and brake action are a dream, so you feel like an immortal as you squeeze on the pads and prepare to commit. You can do no wrong. Next time, you tell yourself, I’ll be quicker. What a feeling.
And what a different feeling and experience it is in a Bowler Bulldog. This is the bespoke-chassis Dakar-spec road-legal rally raid car with a Land Rover Defender body perched quizzically on top of it, which its maker has seen fit to put a Jaguar F-Type SVR engine into. Ours came on hybrid offroad tyres; but then I’m glad it didn’t have much more mechanical grip because you wouldn’t believe a car could roll quite like it. Take a deep breath, trust the chassis and you’ll survive it, though. There’s grip even under such conditions and really lovely, precise steering. And if you did hit the grass, why on earth would you worry?